just thinking out loud, Uncategorized 1 comment on Understanding motivation – part 3

Understanding motivation – part 3

So the proverbial tomorrow of blog writing has finally arrived, and here is the last of my three part series on motivation. I can finally speak to the final piece, the keystone as it were, of the motivation puzzle in my mind. Simply put, it comes down to validation.

From dictionary.com:


–verb (used with object), -dat·ed, -dat·ing.

  1. to make valid; substantiate; confirm: Time validated oursuspicions.
  2. to give legal force to; legalize.
  3. to give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to, as elected officials, election procedures, documents, etc.: to validate a passport.

It’s as simple as a good job from someone who notices what you’ve done, or a feeling before you go to bed that you’re the man. There isn’t a single formula across which validation works for everyone, but it is something that everyone needs.

The really interesting bit is that for some it’s an internal validation that they’ve accomplished something. I think there’s a real luck to this kind of person because they can find something that they love, and be happy doing it, and that’s the extent of the validation loop. The effort, blood, sweat and tears are all summed up in that feeling at the end of the day that they’re proud of themselves. End of story.

I think though that the more relevant case for me is an external validation. Not necessarily in words, but in body language. I want to see in your eyes that you get it. I want to hear your heart beat a little bit louder because you’re excited. I want to see the chill across your skin when you realize what a game changer I’m sharing with you. It’s that instant moment of, yup, we just did that, that makes the journey so sweet at the end.

You want to motivate me… give me the chance to blow your mind.

just thinking out loud, Uncategorized 0 comments on Understanding motivation – part 2

Understanding motivation – part 2

My younger brother called me today to let me know about his LSAT score. He studied pretty much non-stop from mid-May through mid-October for this test. It’s on the margin where test scores make a difference, and based on a chart of law school acceptance scores found here, the difference between #1 and #10 is pretty significant. The results are really great for both him and our family in that he’s opened the doors to any school he wants to go to with his test result.

Really, the win there more than anything else is that there’s something to being surrounded by the kind of people who appreciate and  live on the margin between #1 and #10. Being surrounded by people like that is a very strong form of motivation. It was this section that I found the most appealing from Newcomb’s blog post.

Super A = a(a), a=a, super B=c(c), b=c and c=0 – Various sources but probably mostly Peter Thiel and a little bit of Luke Nosek.

There really is something to being surrounded by the all-stars of your trade. The question I have though is how to do so outside of the crowding that happens at large companies that seem to swallow talent. My friend Jordan O’Mara told me the other day that he’s the worst on his team, which he considers one of the best inside of Red Hat corporate. Fantastic! He’s going to learn like crazy, and he’s going to be a LOT better for it. That said, there has to be a way to get that talent out of the door, and into the proverbial garage.

Having thought about this all day, I think the answer is quite simple actually.

Create, or be part of creating, something that is in and of itself such a cutting edge idea that you become the attraction to the top-level talent.

I think that’s the key indicator that there is a lack of truly great ideas coming out of the Valley of late. The fact that everyone wants to go to Facebook instead of building their own says something. The great ideas are missing.

And so I’ve come down to the idea that there needs to be a great idea, a sense of control to the journey and a community of the best with which to make it all happen. There’s a lot of motivation in all of that, but I still think it’s missing something big. That I’ll speak to tomorrow.

just thinking out loud, Uncategorized 0 comments on Understanding motivation – part 1

Understanding motivation – part 1

I’m not convinced that motivations are well understood, least of all by me. You see, I was taught in economics that perfectly rational people will respond to a set of incentives in a perfectly rational way. While I’m sure that that makes sense in a textbook, and of course for the graphs and models which derive from that axiom, it doesn’t make sense as a framework through which to observe life nor make decisions regarding the advancement of it.

And so comes forth the challenge of understanding what motivates.

Since a large-scale operation to discover isn’t an option, I found it most pertinent to find the answer in myself. Instead of comically interviewing myself on the subject however, I’ve been looking for others ideas of motivation to see if it is something to which I can subscribe.

It lead me to an article on Steve Newcomb’s blog about building a cult culture at a startup. Steve Newcomb was the founder of Powerset which is now a part of Bing.com. This paragraph here really got me:

The best way to prove to yourself, potential investors and to any potential future employees that you have a killer idea, is to get a number of A-level engineers to join full-time with equity-only deals.

Would I ever do an equity-only deal? That’s a pretty awesome question. Does that mean that the idea motivates you so much you know it’s going to succeed? Or is it that the money you make is irrelevant in the short term versus the ability to cash out in the long term? Does it mean committing to a project for 2-3 years to vest enough of the equity such that if there is a liquidation event then it’s all worth it?

One million and one questions flew through my mind in an instant. And I came back to the original which was, “Would I ever take an equity-only deal?”

I quickly realized that the answer was no. Not because I’d want money instead of the equity, that’s not the problem. I think the problem is that the motivation doesn’t come from the expected result, but by the journey that gets me there. Having the equity doesn’t give me the power to control, in some shape or form, the journey. I know that no end result is guaranteed, but I do know that I have to get from point A today to some point unknown in the future, and that I want to enjoy it while I go down that path.

Nonetheless, there was much more in this article to glean from, and so I’ll return to it tomorrow. Maybe the answer lies here, but really what the answer isn’t lies here, and the answer lies somewhere else.